I was mentally preparing a blog post to comment about writing for myself and, by serendipity, came across this transcript of a keynote by Cheryl Klein on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (from which the quotes in this post are taken). The success of the books is summed up at the end, very passionately, in a way that hit on exactly what my underlying thoughts had been churning.
In the transcript, much is said about character, voice, theme, and plot. The promise of these subjects was what sent me to the article in the first place. I copied and pasted the questions that Ms. Klein suggests a writer ask herself into the document where I am re-mapping my draft. Again, they were exactly what I wanted.
But what I think I came away with, what I needed to read, was the final thought in the keynote:
Have fun, and write what you love.
This is the bone I have been gnawing all week, as I ramp up for the gluttonous month of NaNoWriMo. The thought I personally had was: I am the only one who truly cares if my story gets told.
That sounds lonely at first, but it is the truth. My friends and family, who have been as supportive as I could ask for, would also support me in the decision to put the story down, unfinished, if I told them I planned to do so. Probably with a pat on the hand and a noncommittal utterance of, “Well, you can always go back to finish it someday.”
But I would be the one left with the ache in my heart. I am the one who writes because of the ache in my heart. Because the story would bore a hole through my skull to be out of me if I did not give it a path of less resistance.
I see this as a good thing. I work on it out of love, out of a compulsion. Every change I make is out of love, to see the story reach its potential. I don’t work for peanuts, or applause.
Not to worry about queries and agents and publishers. Not to worry about some career as a writer, about reviews, or other markers of success. Not to worry about whether anyone. actually. reads it.
Just to worry about the story. If my tunnel vision can close out the noise of what comes after, I know this story can flourish. Slow down, take a breath, focus, and channel the story.
You have to take joy in the work of writing, for it is hard work,
but when you can find that just-right word, that perfect plot twist-
there are very few greater pleasures.
And then, even if your book is never published
Or if it is published, but never quite achieves 400 million copies in print
You will still have the story you always wanted,
A little bit of yourself forever in the world.
Because a book is kind of like a good Horcrux, if we can imagine that-
A piece of the writer’s soul, preserved in a physical object for all time
And changing the lives of all those who come in contact with it.